Legends of WrestleManiaESRB:
Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: YUKES/ JAKKS Pacific
1-4 players (offline)
2 players (cooperative)
2-4 players (online)
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to preview THQ's latest Wrestling game, Legends of WrestleMania (also referred to as Legends in this review). During my visit to THQ I was not only surprised with how simple the game was, but how well it played too. I was somewhat taken back by the whole experience of getting a chance to play as those wrestlers I idolized back in my youth. The game is being released at the same time that the WrestleMania series is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Well we here at GameBoyz have finally received our review copies of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, and after sitting down and playing quite a few matches I finally have something to say about it.
The WWE characters definitely have an over-the-top look to them. This keeps in line with the arcadish feel that the game strives to maintain. Each wrestler has certain aspects that have been emphasized in order to give them a "superhero-like" look. The attributes that are emphasised on each wrestler are meant to bring back those feelings when fans were young and how they may have seen wrestlers as gladiator-like super beings. For example, Hulk Hogan's arms and chest are a lot larger and more powerful looking then what they really look like while King Kong Bundy looks a lot more sculpted then he really was in his heyday. The visual style of the wrestlers matches the theme of the game to a tee.
Something that really stands out in this latest wrestling game is the fans. When I say the fans I mean the virtual fans that populate the virtual stadiums/arenas. Most wrestling games in the past have had cardboard looking cut-outs that have repetitive animations. However in Legends the majority of the crowd, from the floor to the mid and the upper bowls, is rendered in 3D polygons. Granted they are lower quality then the wrestlers, however they are so much better then any crowds that have been used before. They are also fully animated as well and manage to bring more life to the ringside. This was very evident during a submission match between Brett Hart, who I controlled, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The match went outside the ring and ended up in the crowd on the floor. The 3D modelled crowd surrounded us and cheered us on as we fought. It made the fight outside the ring that much more immersive. On a side note, the crowds that have been included in the game have been designed to reflect the time period quite well. From the mullets of the early 80's, to the pink polo and tie-dyed shirts of the 90's that never seem to age, everything you may associate with the time period is there. At the end of the day the work that went into recreating the crazy fans that go to the stadiums/arenas to enjoy wrestling makes for a better game.
Technically speaking the game runs very smoothly. I was amazed how steady the framerate was even with a lot of wrestlers on. That being said, this can be attributed to programming decisions of the game as well, not just the graphics engine. I played a few 30-man Royal Rumbles and the most wrestlers in the ring at once was six. There never seemed to be any more then that. Even when a new wrestler was running down the entrance way to the ring, and there was already six in the ring, one of them would be knocked out inexplicably to make room for the new wrestler. Regardless, during all the action there was virtually no slowdown and everything ran pretty smooth. As for any clipping, collision detection or any other types of glitches, I was amazed to see that this was also kept to a bare minimum. Wrestlers connected with their various moves and there was nary a time that they would 'go through' each other or through parts of the ring. There were only two things that really stuck out to me. The first were the times that I would carry a championship belt over my shoulder and it did not actually connect with my shoulder as it hovered slightly above. The second issue was that there were times during some of my matches when my opponent(s) would be lying on their back, and when I went to grapple them the camera would change position an my opponent would all of a sudden be lying on his stomach with no transition. These two things are minor and fall in to the category of annoyances rather then major visual glitches. It is also me being picky.
THQ has made sure to keep the true WWE feel in the audio department as well, with Howard Finkle doing the ring announcing and JR and Taz doing the color commentary. There are approximately 5000 lines of commentating in the game and the folks at THQ noted that JR adlibs quite a bit given that he has been around for so long and he actually remembers a lot of the WrestleMania's that are featured, so he was able to comment at will based on what he had seen and experienced in person. During the times you will replay any of the 15 available WrestleMania events the commentating will be very specific to each match including the events that take place as well as the wrestlers involved. The only time I really found the commentating somewhat repetitive was in exhibition matches, but this is to be expected given that you can only play the same wrestlers so many times in exhibition mode before you hear the same comments.
In terms of the sound effects that occur, wrestling fans will be happy to know that the sound of the ring are faithfully recreated in Legends. From the familiar sound of hitting the mat to the distinct sound of a chair or ringside bell hitting the head of your opponent, all is included in this game. In terms of the crowd noises, they react accordingly from cheering on the good guys to booing those that have a history of being bad. I found that all the in game sounds help to create a great WWE experience.
A final note worth mentioning is that each specific wrestler's entrance music is included in this game as well. It was great to hear some of the older WWE wrestler's enter the ring to their own music. From the Iron Sheik to the Ultimate Warrior's entrance music; I was definitely brought back to the days of when I was much younger and very interested in watching what was then known as the WWF.
As mentioned in my preview a couple of weeks ago, Legend of WrestleMania's aim is to bring back a lot of the history and nostalgia when looking back at the long running WrestleMania series. The game tries to not only bring back memories of watching wrestlers from the early 80 and 90's, but it also brings back the atmosphere of the stadiums and fans of those same time periods.
During the preview event I misinterpreted what I was watching and hearing, something my wife says I do on a regular basis. I was under the impression that Legends took the first 15 WrestleManias in order; however nothing could be further from the truth. It was evident that my interpretation during the preview event was somewhat off as when I was playing my review copy I found myself wrestling in WrestleMania XIII (13 for you non Roman numeral people) and I was only five or six matches into my WrestleMania Tour mode.
There are three main match types that Tour mode focuses on for each WrestleMania match:
Relive Match - Here you will take on the role of a past winner of an iconic WrestleMania match. The main goal is to win the match. You can also complete certain objectives within the match. The more objectives you complete the more you live up to what the real match was actually like. The objectives are not necessary to win each match though. The game will let you know when you meet an objective so you won't be particularly lost during a match.
Rewrite Match - Here you will take on the role of a loser of an iconic WrestleMania match and then try to win the match that the wrestler actually lost. You will try to 'rewrite' the history. There are also a set of objectives for you to try to meet.
Redefine Match - This match type has a fan fiction element to it. Here you will take a past match and introduce new elements to the original match such as new rule or even a new match type (e.g. ladder match when it was actually a cage match, etc).
Something that I found really awesome was the lead up to playing each WrestleMania. There is a movie prior to each match and this montage was created by the WWE specifically for the Legends game. The footage is used to refresh those gamers who are familiar with each character, or introduce those who are rookies of the legendary wrestlers, to what events may have preceded the big WrestleMania match you are about to relive or rewrite. Not only do they show the events leading up to the actual match, but there is also footage from the actual WrestleMania event itself. The WWE was able to dig into their vault of TV and pay-per-view footage to put some pretty impressive movies together. Some of the footage is even pre-WrestleMania given that a lot of character feuds originated prior to the various WrestleManias featured.
As I mentioned there are objectives/challenges for you to meet during the matches in the WrestleMania Tour mode and these allow the virtual matches that you are going to play to look and feel like the actual WrestleMania match. Each of these objectives has a point value ranging from five to 20 points. You must reach a certain total point score to get a gold medal. This score is not the total value of all the objectives, but it doesn't hurt to try to get all of them. If you are successful at completing the gold medal standard for the objectives you can open up new wrestling modes or alternate costumes for characters in the game. You don't have to get a gold medal to win the match either. I found that I would play each match and try to complete the objectives, but if I didn't do so, and I still won, I would go back and do the match over in order to try to reach the gold medal standard. Trust me, wrestling fans out there will want to get each medal for each match as not only does is make it more true to the real life events, but the bonuses make the experience that much better later on in the game and you get an achievement for doing so.
For those that have had experience playing any other wrestling game in the past, particularly the Smackdown vs. Raw series, Legends has a different life bar and momentum system then that found in earlier games. As you perform well with your wrestler, and take control of the match, you fill up a momentum bar which in turn opens up more moves. There are three levels to complete. Level one opens up a larger repertoire of moves which are stronger then the default set you have at the start. Level two will open up signature moves as well as bigger and more powerful throws. Finally, when you hit level three, you open up your character's finisher move. What is really interesting is that your finisher move is not guaranteed to end it all. Your opponent can interrupt your finishing move leaving you only with a body slam or some shortened attack. They can also get out of your pin to continue the match should they have enough stamina to do so.
Given that Legends is very much an arcade experience, the control is very simple. THQ has made it very clear that the reasoning is twofold. The first is that it wants to bring gamers back to a very simple time, when videogames of any nature, wrestling included, were simple to control and somewhat easy to play. The second reason is that they wanted to make the game more accessible to those gamers out there who may have not played any wrestling games in the past. The control is very different from the simulation control of any of the Smackdown vs. Raw games. In Legends you use the left analog stick to move about the ring and the four face buttons are assigned the main tasks including strike, grapple, defence (e.g. block or counter) and miscellaneous action (e.g. climb turnbuckle or get in and out of the ring). That is it.
I was somewhat taken with the simplicity of the control when I experienced the game at THQ during the preview event. Now that I have had the chance to sit and play the game in extended play sessions at my home office, I am even more impressed. The game still has the simplicity found during my initial preview play; however there is also some depth to it that is not discovered until you read the 'tutorial' that is in the game and spend a lot of time actually playing. The total amount of moves that are available is a lot larger then I had envisioned. This comes from a mix of button presses and pushing the analog stick in specific directions. I was amazed with how much you could do. Sure, it is not a simulation like wrestling experience, but there are a lot of damn moves available, especially for a game that touts its simplicity. Don't get me wrong, it can still be easy for those casual gamers to get into this arcade based game, but the hidden depth of the number of moves makes Legends all the more inviting to play. Overall I really think that the control will allow new users to wrestling games to enjoy what is offered on the disc while still enabling those familiar with any previous wrestling games have a good time too.
Legends also includes a chained encounter system which is similar to Quick Time Events (QTE) that occur in some other action games out there. During the matches events occur where you chain together certain button presses. Your opponent, be it the computer AI or another human being, also has a chance to hit the same buttons as you. If you are on the offensive, and you manage to complete the chain, you can pull of some pretty slick looking and devastating wresting moves. If you are on the defensive end, and you hit the correct buttons quicker then your opponent, not only do you stop their chained move from occurring, but you can pull of a powerful and effective counter move. I have never been a big fan of QTE, or anything similar, but I actually didn't mind it when playing Legends. This can add some unpredictability to the game, no matter who you play, as each time the possible outcome was never set in stone. That being said, I can tell that I still need some practice as I could rarely press the right button in time enabling me to successfully pull off an Irish Whip. Overall these chained encounters were pretty cool and made for some exciting endings to the matches I played.
For those wondering about the actual roster of wrestlers, Legends of WrestleMania ships with 40 legendary wrestlers from the likes of Hulk Hogan, Rick Flair, Junkyard Dog, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock to name a few. However, you can transfer the full roster of wrestlers from Smackdown vs. Raw 2009. This will push the overall roster to over 100. For wrestling fans of any level, not only does this increase the size of the whole roster list, but it also allows you to now create dream matches that could never occur in real life. Imagine John Cena vs. Sgt. Slaughter, or Randy Orton battling against the legendary Hulk Hogan. Hell you can even put together a "Battle of the Big Boys" match with the Big Show vs. Andre the Giant vs. the Big Bossman. THQ noted during the preview in early March that the ability to transfer the Smackdown vs. Raw 2009 roster will make Legends of WrestleMania one of the largest wrestling game rosters available and that does not include any players you created in Smackdown vs. Raw 2009, which can also be transferred to Legends.
During the earlier time periods of the WWE managers seemed to be more prevalent then they are today. Well THQ made sure to include them in Legends. Such well remembered managers as Bobby "The Brain" Heenan, Jimmy "The Mouth of the South" Hart, Mr. Fuji, and Pallbearer are featured in the game. They are not just eye candy either as they play an active role during the match by doing such things as throwing powder in your opponents face, tripping opponents along side of the ring and even picking up your foot to put it on the ropes to save you from being counted out. They will even encourage you to play on by cheering or giving you a pep talk. You can also attack your opponent's manager with any of the moves you have available to you. I have to admit that I felt a bit of guilty satisfaction as I laid a beating or two on poor old Jimmy Hart.
Along with the Legends mode there is also the typical exhibition mode where you can set up any type of match you wish, as long as it is available in the game's settings. There are 16 arenas found in the game along with 11 well known match types (e.g. ladder, cage, royal rumble, etc) for your choosing pleasure. One of the main reasons for the lower number of match types then those found in previous wrestling games is that a lot of game types that exist today did not exist during the time that the many of the included roster of legends wrestled. This keeps the match types somewhat realistic to the time period of the featured WrestleManias in the game. Gamers will still have a lot to do though as the available match types are somewhat diverse and make for a really good time.
Another game mode in Legends is the Legend Killer mode. This mode features seven tiers, with each tier having ten legends waiting for you to take on the challenge. This mode is used to enhance your Create-a-Legend attributes as you take the player you create in game through the paces. This is a pretty enjoyable mode and you need to beat all 10 opponents in a row to complete each tier. Once you complete this mode you are awarded Legend Killer status and given your own statue.
Of course Legends also offers up multiplayer mayhem both locally as well as online. I have played quite a bit locally, however as I had the game a week early there was nary a soul online so I could not find any online matches. Locally speaking there was quite a bit of enjoyment had. Having the chance to pick any of those legends that I watched as a kid, and battle it out with a friend who got the chance to do the same, was a pretty pleasant experience. And of course the smacktalk that took place during each match was hilarious. Online multiplayer is pretty much the same; however the main difference is that you head online over Xbox LIVE. You can fight in custom or ranked matches. There is also an online leaderboard for those gamers who want to become a legend themselves. Should I find any major differences with the online play in terms of the experiences I had when playing local multiplayer, I will make the necessary additions here, however if there is no major change don't expect any update.
On a final note, for those who love achievements, there are a smaller number of achievements in Legends then those found in a lot of other games. There are a total of 19 achievements totalling the usual 1000 points. Some are easy to get, while others will require some investment in time. Bottomline, there are some pretty neat ones available and overall it isn't too hard to rack up some pretty impressive achievement points.
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